Omaha's Commercial Recycling Changes Explained

Updated: June 27, 2018

As reported in the Omaha World Herald, all commercial entities in Omaha must change from what’s called single-stream recycling to dual-stream recycling. The change comes in response to First Star Recycling’s protocol. More on who First Star is, and why this occurred below, but first ...


Here’s a quick list of changes:

  • Placing your recyclables in non-recyclable plastic bags is no longer accepted.
  • Commercial clients must now separate recyclables into two categories:
    • 1. Dry and Clean Cardboard (Hillside can compost the wet stuff). 
    • 2. Dry and Clean Paper (like office paper, newspaper, magazines) + Empty and Clean Containers (like aluminum/tin/steel cans, and plastics #1, 2, 3, 5).
  • If you're a large enough organization, single-stream may still be an option if you pass an audit inspection by First Star.

To dive deeper in what types of materials are accepted, check out First Star's dual-stream article


But wait! Why all the changes?

The International Influence

There’s been an international shake-up in the recycling industry. We won’t bore you with the complexities of turning your recycled materials into reusable commodities, but the short of it is: China stopped taking the world’s recycled materials, and now we’re all screwed (unless we make necessary changes)!

Here’s the hard truth: Our recycling industry has had an unhealthy, codependent relationship with China for a long time. America has been sending them really crappy material with loads of contamination for years. Because China took it, haulers, municipalities, and material recycling facilities didn’t bother to fix this one big problem: most people recycle the wrong way

But now that China won’t accept our crummy recycled materials, we’re faced with fixing the system.


Single-Stream Recycling Explained

One of the first changes we’re seeing in America is that some materials recovery facilities (MRF’s as us industry folks say) are ending single-stream collection and splitting into dual-stream.

Single-stream recycling is the quite frankly a lazy way to recycle, and it’s the system that Omaha has spoiled us with for years. It means that you and I have been able to put all recyclable materials into the same place.

It’s simple, which means more folks are likely to engage with it, but it’s highly flawed, because if one bad apple puts half a can of soda into a bin, then all the paper you recycled gets soaked and all the plastics now have a sticky residue. This is called contamination, and if a load of recycled materials is too contaminated, then everything goes to the landfill.


Surprise! (Not all recycled materials get recycled).

Another hard truth: way more recycled materials end up in the landfill than you’d think. This is partly due to the public contaminating materials, partly due to some waste haulers not being truthful about where they take your materials, and partly due to some MRF’s misleading us haulers on where they send recycled materials … We’ve seen all of the above.

But we’re not that kind of company. We’re committed to educating you and making sure your materials actually get recycled.

As Verdis Group pointed out in their analysis of the current situation, NebraskaLand Recycling was claiming to be a single-stream MRF, but upon investigation, it turns out that they only recycle cardboard and send everything else to the landfill. Ouch! 

That’s why we send your materials to First Star Recycling. They are the largest MRF in the area, all of Omaha’s residential recycling goes to them, we’ve personally vetted their process, and toured their facility on a number of occasions. At this time in Omaha, First Star is the best MRF to send your materials to, and we caution you to be wary of any other hauler that takes another approach.


Omaha’s New Commercial Dual-Stream Explained

As our chosen and trusted MRF, First Star Recycling is requiring us haulers to institute a dual-stream collection service with all commercial clients. Note: this does not effect residential.

So now cardboard must be separated from all other recyclable materials by commercial entities. 

On top of that, many commercial folks have a practice of putting all recyclable material into non-recyclable plastic trash bags, and then throwing the whole bag into their tote or dumpster. But under First Star’s new rules, that won’t be accepted any longer either. 


We can save the recycling industry!  

While this entails more work for everybody, the good news is that the process should educate the public more thoroughly on how to recycle the right way, produce cleaner materials for our MFR’s, and in the process, we’ll all save the recycling industry. Yay!


So how do you make the change?

More than just hauling away your waste, Hillside Solutions is committed to helping our partners meet their sustainability goals. That means we'll provide guidance on how to navigate this new world; consultation on how to incorporate these practices into your office, school, or church; and transparency to ensure your recycled materials actually get recycled

And BTW: While you're having to reassess how you handle waste, if you've been thinking about adding composting or going zero waste down the road, now is a great time to make the switch. We'll help get you there.

Contact our team, and let's get started! 


Lots of love,

from your Sustainability Consultant team at Hillside Solutions

Brent Crampton